Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

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I’m wading through marketing blurb that reads as though Heat magazine has been MagiMixed with a compendium of Victorian poetry. Which I suppose is entirely appropriate because these blurbs concern the modern reinvention of the gentle art of perfumery. The blending of oils, spices, herbs in delicate balance has, over recent years become an alchemy of brand, celebrity, fame, licensing, marketing and endorsement. A massive array of celebrity and personality led signature scents have been brought to market. Here is a – by no means exhaustive – sample:

Britney Spears: Curious (“represents the young woman that pushes boundaries and revels in adventure”)

Britney Spears: Fantasy (“A love potion of sweet temptation that leaves a tantalizing trail of embracing sensuality.”)

Paris Hilton (“Celebrity…Trend Setter…Model…Beauty…Socialite…Star
This fragrance opens with a sheer sophistication that personifies its creator, Paris Hilton.”)

Jennifer Lopez: ‘Glow’ (“sexy, radiant, revealing”)

Jennifer Lopez: Love at 1st Glow (“‘a cloud of innocent sensuality’)

Sarah Jessica Parker: Lovely (“Feminine. Classic. Romantic. Everlasting. A fragrance meant for every woman.”)

Tennis ace, Maria Sharapovas eponymous scent (contains: Pomegranate Leaf, Cassis Berries, Lemongrass, Gardenia, Jasmine, Magnolia, Dewy English Rose petals and – hard to believe but fantastic if true – Wimbledon Grass)

There are also some very unlikely entrants into the market. Some seemingly ironic, others ridiculously hopeless:

Jade Goody: “Shh…’ (“sweet and enduring”)

Ronan Keating: ‘Hope’ (‘I hope that one day we many have true peace on earth and that we can all help to make the world a better place for our children’ – garden herbs and flowers)

Old-timer Cliff Richard seems to have a very successful line in perfumery. Try his latest, ‘Devil Woman’ (tag line: ‘So I came here to you, sweet lady/Answering your mystical call’ from his hit of the same name)

Even fictional characters can stretch their brand: Barbie (“a stylish fragrance for young girls”- yikes!).

But we can’t dwell on any of these, as we’re here to sample ‘Intimately’ from David and Victoria Beckham. Packaged in black (men’s – though pink text shows that we’re talking modern maleness) and pink (women’s). Both bear a ‘dvb’ motif that is pleasingly symmetrical on a textured gloss/matt triangle pattern relief. The bottles are the same – a glass cubed top pushed onto a golden atomiser that trails its tube in a wide squat cuboid well. ‘Her’ perfume is pale pink, ‘His’ is brownish yellow like a urine sample on a hot day (Obviously, this won’t be appropriate when Rio Ferdinand designs his perfume. But perhaps could be right for Ben Johnson?)

For men, the line promises ‘to bring the confidence of masculinity with a “magnetic, provocative, cool — yet never aloof” blend of grapefruit zest, bergamot and cardamom – perhaps inspired by mixing a weight watchers breakfast with last nights curry – an accurate picture of binge-and-purge confused male behavior?

For women, the fragrance line aims to convey “the essence of Victoria known only to the people closest to her”. It is a strange ambition, one that seems drawn from Victoria’s relationship to the media. Perhaps it is a bid for the most self-referential perfume ever made.

‘Intimately’ is a romantic relationship made into smell form. Do you think you’ve ever met a couple who wear his’n'hers perfumes? (and if you have what kind of strange sex club were you visiting?) Or are they intended as some kind of secret signal for teenage pseudo-David’s to sniff out pseudo-Victoria’s on high streets and in nightclubs across Britain?

Breath deep – that intoxicating smell is an ultra-modern concoction written in primitive, pre-language pheromones. It’s a mist of media, a haze of communication.

‘Intimately’, like all the other signature scents – is personality distilled into product. A slosh of amber liquid in sculpted glass within packaging presenting itself in an overdramatic, self absorbed, manner. It not only tell us what celebrities would like us to think of them, but also provide us with an insight into the strange mechanics of contemporary product design.

Perfume is design about emotion, expression, feeling sensation and identity. Many perfumes aspire to a single word: “Eternity”, “Obsession”, and so on. They reach towards states of being, of mind or abstract concepts. They sometimes suggest the romance of an all-consuming personality disorder.

It’s all a long way from photographs of Henry Cooper and Kevin Keegan hanging out in the locker room that once advertised Brut. Celebrity has moved from endorsement to becoming the product itself. The construction of celebrity identity is now stronger, more sophisticated, and bigger. It has grown so monstrously that it has consumed the product itself. This is a ravenous, expansive, capitalist vision of personality.

‘Intimately’ is manufactured by Coty Inc, the worlds largest fragrance company. Coty Beauty is the division which deals with personality based brands – developed in conjunction, with celebrities own management teams. Thus ‘Beckham’ is a brand that is licensed to Coty by 19 Management, the music, media & fashion empire run by Simon Fuller (of Spice Girls and X-Factor fame) who represent David and Victoria.

Significantly, the actual mechanism of puffed up; fame-gorged celebrity product isn’t the celebrity himself or herself. Image and product – manipulated by Svengalis who are in league with military industrial complex – have consumed personality like some kind of sci-fi monster. They have taken over the host body and turned it into a factory where it produces facsimiles of itself. The process continues until the host becomes an exhausted, empty useless husk, appearing on where-are-they-now TV shows. Actions, image, skin, hair, history, even true love become devices in a production line of product. Ironically, the foregrounding of celebrity personality means the atomisation of identity into clouds of dispersing particles.

With her music career stalled and his loss of the England armband and relegation to Real Madrid’s bench, perhaps ‘Intimately’ will become a kind of public epitaph for David and Victoria written in the most ephemeral of media. You could call it a scent-optaph (or should it be monu-scent ?) for the most media mediated British couple of the last decade.

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